Wildcats Rally for 3-1 Victory at Xavier
CINCINNATI, Ohio – The No. 24 Kentucky volleyball team rallied for a 3-1 (22-25, 25-17, 25-17, 25-20) win at Xavier after dropping the opening set of the match behind a strong defensive effort and an offensive spark from its sophomore attackers. UK’s four sophomores posted six or more kills to ignite the offensive effort, while sophomore Ashley Dusek had 22 digs and Kaz Brown led the way at the net with eight blocks.
“I was impressed with our toughness and blocking as the match went on,” said 11th-year head coach Craig Skinner. “At the end of the fourth set we showed a level of toughness and competitiveness that we’re capable of on a regular basis. I’m proud to see us making defensive plays and to see Kaz and Darian providing us with the points we needed down the stretch. It’s always great to get a win on the road and I’m proud of how we responded after our play in the first set.”
With the win Kentucky improves to 6-5 on the season while Xavier falls to 4-6 on the year. UK returns to action on Sunday, Sept. 20 in a showdown with rival Louisville in Memorial Coliseum. The match is slated for a 2 p.m. ET opening serve and can be seen on WatchESPN in conjunction with the SEC Network. It’s “Pack the House” night in the Coliseum against the Cardinals, as the first 750 fans in attendance will receive a “This is our House” t-shirt.
Kentucky’s four sophomores Darian Mack (15), Sharay Barnes (13), Brown (13) and Emily Franklin (6) paced the attack for the Blue and White. Senior setter Morgan Bergren dished out 43 assists on the night and led the Cats to a .283 hitting clip and 56 total kills. Bergren contributed five kills of her own and freshman Anna Nyberg added four.
Dusek led the defensive effort with 22 scoops from the back row. Mack had her fourth double-double of the season as she provided 12 digs. Freshman McKenzie Watson added 11 for her second-consecutive match in double figures. Brown had eight blocks, tying her career best, to pace the net play as UK turned back 13 total Xavier attacks. Bergren was in on five blocks, while six total Wildcats got in on the action. Junior Anni Thomasson had nine digs in her first action in more than two weeks.
Bergren scored the match’s first point with a dump to the middle of the floor. From there the teams would exchange points until the Musketeers scored three straight for a 4-2 lead. The home team stretched the lead to four at 8-4 until Franklin smashed a quick set home to snap the four-point swing. Xavier, however, would keep the pressure on and rattled off seven-consecutive points for an 18-8 lead. Mack ended the streak with a kill to the back row, and then the Wildcats put together a 6-0 run of their own to pull back to within two at 20-18. Five of the final nine points went to Xavier as the home team claimed a 25-22 opening set win to go ahead 1-0 in the match. Mack had five kills and Franklin had three in the frame. Dusek led the defensive effort with seven digs.
Xavier jumped in front by a 4-1 margin to being the second stanza. Xavier maintained the advantage until UK pulled to within one at 11-10 following back-to-back Big Blue blocks. The Wildcats were able to even the score on the very next play as the Musketeers’ attack soared long. UK garnered its first lead of the set at 12-11 when Xavier again misplayed an attack. The spurt stretched to six on a Nyberg ace. Mack and Franklin teamed up for a rejection to extend the visitors’ edge to 15-12 and force the home team into a timeout. Brown and Barnes teamed up for a block and Franklin followed with an ace to stretch the Wildcats’ lead to 21-15. It was all the more breathing room the Cats would need en route to a 25-17 match-evening win. Mack led the way again with a trio of kills, while Brown and Barnes had two. UK registered three blocks in the set and limited Xavier to a .150 attacking clip.
The teams swapped points to begin the third until a kill from Brown gave the Cats a 5-3 lead. Bergren and Franklin teamed up for a block to give the Blue and White a 10-6 lead which forced Xavier into an early timeout. The Wildcats opened up the largest lead of the set at six points with a Barnes hammer down the line to push the score to 14-8. Barnes tooled the block to stymie a 3-0 spurt by the Musketeers at 15-11. Franklin hurled a pair of aces followed by a Xavier attacking error which helped increase UK’s lead to 18-11 and force the home team into its final timeout. Mack made a spectacular dig and Barnes finished the play with a kill as UK took a commanding 20-11 advantage. Kentucky rolled the rest of the way to take a 2-1 lead in the match following a 25-17 third set win. Brown exploded for five kills in the set and Mack had a set-high six digs.UK utilized a .355 attacking clip in the set win.
Barnes opened the scoring with her 10th kill of the night to begin the fourth, but Xavier rebounded by tallying the next three points for a 3-1 lead. The Musketeers’ lead was as large as three before the Wildcats strung together three-straight points capped by a Dusek ace to tie the score at five. Xavier responded with a point to recapture the lead and maintained the edge until Barnes squeezed one past the block for a 9-8 visitors’ advantage. Xavier eventually clawed back to tie the score once again this time at 16. From there the teams would exchange points until Franklin capped an extended rally with a smash to the left side for a 22-20 Wildcat lead. It was all the more cushion the Blue and White would need as it wrapped up the victory behind a 25-20 fourth set victory. Mack totaled five kills, while Brown and Barnes both had four. Kentucky posted a match-high 16 kills in the set and attacked with a .279 rate. Dusek had eight scoops in the final frame to lead the defensive effort.
BY THE NUMBERS
12 – Total aces by Emily Franklin this season after a match-high three in today’s match.
9 – Ashley Dusek notched her ninth-consecutive match with double-digit digs. Today she posted 22 total scoops. She’s logged 10 or more in all but one match this season.
8 – Kaz Brown matched her season and career-best with a match-high eight rejections. She’s shoved back four or more opponent attacks in each of UK’s last four matches.
7 – Anni Thomasson became the seventh player in program history to log 600 or more digs in the 25-point rally scoring era with nine scoops today.
4 – Darian Mack registered her team-leading fourth double-double of the season with 15 kills and 12 digs.
3 – Sharay Barnes has now posted 10 or more kills in a career-long three-straight matches following 13 hammers vs. Xavier.
2 – Consecutive matches McKenzie Watson has picked up 10 or more digs with 11 tonight.